Last winter, Bill O'Brien left his job as offensive coordinator of the New England Patriots to become the head coach at Penn State. In the wake of unprecedented sanctions to the Nittany Lions' program this morning, O'Brien re-affirmed his commitment to the university. O'Brien is in a difficult spot, obviously, so would a return to the NFL in the next few years be out of the question for him?
Bill O'Brien might return to the NFL in a few years, but it won't be his first choice of potential outcomes.
The former Patriots offensive coordinator knew it would be incredibly difficult to resurrect Penn State in the face of an epic scandal. The fact that it became only more difficult with crushing sanctions doesn't change his decision. In a way, it's a win-win. The expectations are now so low that O'Brien can either meet them or exceed them.
As for Penn State, the tough, disciplined coach is the right man to lead the school out of the darkness. Much like Mike Shula held Alabama's hand out of probation a decade ago, O'Brien will focus on doing it right while also trying to win. And, as O'Brien has shown in New England, he can take a less-talented player and put him in position to succeed. The goal, at least after four seasons, will be to have the team in position to win and to avoid being replaced, as Shula was by Nick Saban.
O'Brien could get back into the NFL, but I believe him when he says he's committed to stay at Penn State. He had to know the potential for severe sanctions when he took the job, so as ugly as this is for him, he had to be somewhat prepared.
If he had an out, I am sure he would have exercised it already. Maybe in a few years, there could be an alluring NFL job that attracts O'Brien, but I think he will ride this out -- and the university likely will stick with him because of his commitment.
O'Brien will not win at Penn State. The punishment handed down will render the program as one of the worst teams in the conference for years. He will probably lose a ton of recruits from this year's class and have a hard time getting blue chip prospects for the foreseeable future. So what O'Brien has to do is build the character of the program. That means recruiting kids who will compete and graduate.
There will be a different expectation at PSU and O'Brien has to convince the fan base that it's not about wins and losses, but rather about competing the right way. It will be different, but that's too bad. Too much harm has been done.
Good coaches are always in demand. O'Brien has a fine reputation in the NFL. Availability of jobs will dictate whether he will be employed again in the NFL.
If O'Brien hadn't taken the Penn State job, he would have had interviews for NFL head coaching positions. Going forward, his record at Penn State will dictate whether he has any more NFL head coaching opportunities. If I was a GM, he would be on my list of potential head coach candidates.
It's not out of the realm, but I fully expect Bill O'Brien to give Penn State his best effort, with no immediate thoughts of getting back to the NFL.
O'Brien will attack the task with the focus, integrity, and enthusiasm that he has always exhibited. Bill O'Brien will not run from this challenge.
When Bill O'Brien took the job -- no matter what anyone told him -- he had to be prepared for the worst. By January, while we didn't know everything we know now about the atrocities and deception that happened at Penn State, everyone had an idea that the fallout from this could be enormous. It's a big reason why he got the job in the first place, and it's one indication that he's prepared to ride the problems out.
But anyone who would've considered taking the job back in January couldn't afford to look at Penn State as a pit stop. This isn't a two- or three-year rebuild. It's now a project where you'd hope to get the powerhouse back on its feet, and to full strength, six, seven, eight years down the line.
Bottom line: O'Brien had to look at it that way. So I doubt he'll be looking to go to the NFL anytime soon. And if he's successful in resurrecting that program, Penn State's the kind of destination job that few NFL positions would trump anyhow.
O'Brien, as he mentioned in his own statement on the NCAA sanctions, knew what he was getting himself into when he signed on for this uphill battle. I expect he'll stick it out for a few years, rallying his team around trying to start a new tradition at Penn State.
The scholarship reductions handed down by the NCAA and parents' potential hesitation toward sending their children to PSU undoubtedly will make it difficult to complete in the Big Ten for the foreseeable future. But most coaches relish challenges, so I wouldn't expect O'Brien to back away from this one anytime soon.
- Jason Smith NFL.com
O'Brien will be under no pressure for the foreseeable future
Let's go strictly football with this one, because O'Brien was not involved with the controversy at Penn State. At first blush, you'd think he'd be looking to get out of Happy Valley at the first available opportunity. But think about this: He's going to have zero pressure on him to win in the next four years.
If he loses, he's supposed to lose because of the scholarship reductions and bowl bans which will keep top-level talent from going there. Any winning he does will make him look super-human, and his stock will rise significantly -- more so than any other stint in the NFL would do for him. And even if he doesn't win, he'll still be seen as someone taking on a thankless task, and as long as he can shepherd the program along, he'll be a hero just by being there. Remember, he's only 42.
PSU still will be a story every week in college football. Despite the bans, their results will be top of mind, and O'Brien will be one of the highest profile coaches in the country. And you know what? There's something noble about trying to lead young players through a situation that's impossible to navigate and is only set up to fail.
The next few years for Penn State have the potential to play out like a movie script. Think a non-comedy version of "Necessary Roughness," which featured a program rallying together after being leveled by NCAA sanctions.
O'Brien is going to be tasked with building a program from nearly the ground up. I would expect him to be given a lot of room to guide the program, which will have no real expectations for the coming years, maybe even through the rest of the decade. I don't expect to see him jump ship and envision he will end up being there for a long time.